On the eve of World Milk Day, June 1st, the founders of The Vegetarian Butcher launch their new company Those Vegan Cowboys. After the development of vegetarian meat, Those Vegan Cowboys are now committing to developing plant-based dairy successors. CEO Jaap Korteweg: “The development of a stainless steel cow in which grass goes in and a milk equivalent comes out without the hassle of animals is a long-cherished wish of mine. Now that Unilever has taken over our dream of making The Vegetarian Butcher the world's largest butcher, we can focus on a revolutionary next breakthrough."
Say cheese, in a laboratory in Ghent
Korteweg and Koffeman want to develop new plant-based foods with the same taste as traditional milk, cheese, yoghurt and butter. For a flying start, Those Vegan Cowboys recently took over a fully equipped laboratory within the grounds of Ghent University. Under the name Oxyrane, this laboratory previously focused on the production of human proteins for medical applications, without the use of humans or animals. Korteweg: "Our sixteen cowboys in Ghent bring in 251 man-years of dedicated experience in the field of protein development." Researchers will collaborate with scientists and players from universities and the traditional dairy industry to develop milk proteins through fermentation. Fermentation allows grass to be upgraded to dairy-identical proteins via microbial processes. In part not new: in 2020 the majority of all hard cheeses are produced with vegan microbial rennet. Those Vegan Cowboys want to also make the caseins and other milk proteins vegan.
It will take some time
Those Vegan Cowboys expect to take seven years to market products on a serious scale. "We hope to present something tasty on a smaller scale earlier. The upscaling and traditional processing of high-quality dairy copies takes time. But if it succeeds, this project will make a very positive contribution to animal welfare, fair world food distribution, nature, the climate and biodiversity." Animal husbandry currently occupies 70% of the current agricultural area.
Korteweg: "If you use this area for vegetable meat and dairy products, you only need half or less. Now, large areas of nature are being destroyed daily to feed the growing world population. With vegetarian meat and vegan dairy products, we can reverse this development and give large areas back to nature."
From hand milking to the real milking robot
Those Vegan Cowboys regard the development of the stainless steel cow as a logical development within the dairy industry. From hand milking, via the milking machine to the fully automatic milking robot of today.
Korteweg: "In Ghent, a predecessor of the milking machine was already demonstrated at the agricultural exhibition in 1910. In 1992, a Dutchman, was the first farmer in the world who milked all of his cows with a milking robot. The modern dairy farm is a barn with hundreds of cows that stay there year round, with a limited possibility to go outside if they are lucky. It is no more than a factory where machines insert the grass and trucks take out the milk. The cow is an unnecessarily painful part of this industrial process. The Netherlands has a huge tradition of innovation in the dairy industry. For me, this project is no more than a logical next step. The stainless steel cow is an opportunity for the dairy farmers, because they have the grasslands. This is good news for the climate, biodiversity and in particular for the cows."